Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Guest Blog: Thoughts on “The Examination of the Council of Trent”

By Frank Marron

The Title "Sceleratissimus Lutheranus" (meaning "the most villianous Lutheran") was "awarded" to Martin Chemnitz by his Roman Catholic adversaries after the publication of his exhaustive critique of the Council of Trent.

In response to the 16th century Reformers’ Confessions, which are contained in the Book of Concord, the Roman church conducted the Council of Trent(COT). This council formalized the set of beliefs which established the Roman Catholic Church, in addition to attempts at refuting the claims of the Reformation. Upon the death of Martin Luther, the Roman church had high hopes that any problems in the provinces would soon come to an end and things would return to normal.

However, that was not to be the case. Martin Luther had predicted that upon his death men would attempt to tear apart the Reformed churches by attacking the key biblical doctrine of Justification by Grace through Faith in the atonement of Christ ALONE. As predicted, there arose disagreements over doctrinal issues and various factions indeed threatened the unity of Faith within the Reformed churches. Fortunately, God was at work in the hearts and minds of several eminent Reformed theologians to ensure the continuity of what began under the leadership of Luther.

One such giant of the Faith was Martin Chemnitz. The Roman Jesuit order was totally surprised at the caliber of this theologian and it is often said “if Martin Chemnitz had not come along, Martin Luther would hardly have survived”. Among Chemnitz’ various responsibilities was to be the official observer and respondent to the claims of the Council of Trent. His 4 volume treatise “Examination of the Council of Trent” contains the theological exegesis and historical analyzes rebutting the claims of the Roman church. Volume I of the Examination addressed the key theological issues of Holy Scripture, Traditions, Original Sin, Free Will, Justification, Faith, and Good Works.

Upon reviewing the section of the Examination dealing with Traditions, I noticed parallels with statements contained within the Catechism of the Catholic Church dealing with salvation of pagans. Chemnitz clearly laid out the historicity of a proper use of traditions as compared to an improper use: all traditions are to be compared against the Word of God to determine the appropriateness of retaining them. Of course the Roman church disagreed, contending that many “unwritten traditions” pertaining to both faith and morals and which cannot be proved with any testimony of Scripture may also be received with the same authority of Holy Writ. The Roman church claim was that many unwritten traditions were handed down over the ages beginning with men who knew Christ and the apostles from first-hand experience.

Chemnitz brilliantly demonstrates the folly of this approach by illustrating how men such as Polycarp maintained orthodoxy by submitting every tradition to a Scriptural test, while Papias advocated many unwritten traditions resulting in the establishment of all sorts of corruptions, abuses, and superstitions, such as chiliasm. As Chemnitz put it: “…because of the admiration of the unwritten traditions certain seeds about a more perfect knowledge than is delivered in the Scripture clung also to great and learned men in the church.”

Other false teachings based upon spurious teachings concerned the critical doctrine of Justification. Clement of Alexandria was one who embraced many secret, or mystical unwritten traditions still present in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Clement believed rightly, as the Scriptures say, that the Law of God was a custodian to the Jews until Christ appeared. However, Clement also taught that human philosophy was the vehicle by which Greeks were justified!

Upon closer examination, one can see here the beginning of errant beliefs contained in the RCC Catechism, such as paragraph 847 which states that pagans who have not heard the Gospel of Jesus Christ can achieve eternal salvation merely by following their consciences to the best of their ability. I recall reading an article in the December 2005 edition of the Roman Catholic periodical “This Rock”, in which similar claims were made. The article was titled “No Salvation Outside the Church” and was written by Fr. Ray Ryland, an Episcopal Priest holding a PhD in theology from Marquette University. Fr. Ryland quotes the Catholic Catechism:

Every man who is ignorant of the Gospel of Christ and of his Church but seeks the truth and does the will of God in accordance with his understanding of it can be saved. ..”

Fr. Ryland continues to emphasize “That which opens the salvation of Christ to them is their conscious effort, under grace, to serve God as well as they can on the basis of the best information they have about him.”

Now, as a Lutheran I could not merely read this article without a comment. For one thing, as Chemnitz demonstrated in his Examination, the word “Grace” in Scripture refers to the attitude of God towards sinners on account of the atonement of Christ. It does not refer to any “infusion” of power by which a man can live a God-pleasing life, primarily because only the sacrifice of Christ is meritorious for the forgiveness of sins and this Righteousness is imputed to men through the vehicle of faith, a gift from God. Consider the following interchange between “This Rock” and myself on the issue:

My Question:

Fr. Ryland’s article “No Salvation Outside the Church”(December 2005) raised questions in my mind. He made the point that the Catholic Church consists of believers and all those ignorant of Christ who “seek truth”. But Holy Scripture says that no man is “good”, no one seeks truth, and all have turned to their own way(Psalm 53:2-3; Is 53:6). Ryland also makes the point that when Christ says he has “other sheep that are not of this fold”(John 10:16), he is referring not only to future believers but also to those who will never hear the gospel. If this is the case, why would the Catholic Church be concerned with missionary activities? After all, if unbelievers who “seek truth” can be saved, why jeopardize their chances of salvation by presenting the gospel, which they could reject, thereby risking their salvation?

This Rock Response:

Fr. Ray Ryland replies: Thank you for your question. Responding to it enables me to make further distinctions that perhaps should have been in the article itself.

The quotations from Psalm 53 and Isaiah 53, in my opinion, are somewhat hyperbolic, intended as such to make a strong point. Sin is indeed universal, which means all of us repeatedly-but not always-turn to our own ways. Though the human race has not sought truth as assiduously as it should, great numbers of people have indeed sought the truth as best they could in their circumstances.

Vatican II and recent pontiffs have taught that the Church by its very nature is inherently missionary-oriented. The primary reason is because our Lord categorically commanded it(Matt. 28:20).

Unbelievers who truly seek the truth need and have a right to hear the gospel for several reasons. The gospel properly proclaimed to them can put the truth they have received in proper context and point that truth toward Christ, who is the fullness of truth. Another reason is that proclaiming the gospel can enable the “unbelievers” to sift the truth they have received from the error they have unwittingly embraced along with the truth. Moreover, hearing the gospel puts them on notice that as human beings they must do the best they can to order their lives in accord with the will of their Creator

Concluding Comments by Frank Marron

You the reader can judge whether of not “This Rock” adequately responded to my initial question. In my opinion they did not. Fr. Ryland merely restated his original arguments and never responded to the illogical position confronted by my letter. To any serious student of Scripture, all men are born totally spiritually depraved and it is impossible for them to please God, contrary to what Fr. Ryland says. He would do well not to discount Scripture and consider the fact that God says what is required is a New Creation entirely, not a man who searches after truth. The Old Adam must be buried in Baptism and an entirely New Creation conformed to Christ must emerge. It is easy to see how embracing “unwritten traditions” and the thoughts of men(Vatican II) over the clear Word of God, can result in weird and inconsistent theology. The false teachings of human philosophy and elevation of so called “unwritten traditions” that Martin Chemnitz confronted centuries ago is alive and well in the 21st century.

Frank Marron
July 2006


Other articles by Frank Marron:

Guest Blogger: Frank Marron (Lutheran)

Guest Blog: Law & Gospel

Guest Blog: The Word Of The Lord Endures forever, Not The words Of Martin Luther!

Guest Blog:Why Are There So Many Christian Denominations?

Guest Blog: Bondage Of The Will


Churchmouse said...

Using Ryland's reasoning is to put skepticism on why Christ had to die. It minimizes God's plan and puts men firmly in charge of their own salvationm through conscience and human merit. Ryland, being an Episcopal priest, would do good to reexamine his reasoning and not compromise Scriptural truth for the sake of ecumenism.

Another good post, Frank :-)


Oddball Pastor said...

"people need and have a right to hear the gospel"?

Well, so much for grace. We'll have to take God to court for denying our rights... if we can find a higher court of appeal.

FM483 said...

Reading the initialtwo comments leads me to the following:

A straightforward reading of Scripture says that Christ died for the sins of the world,that whoever believes shallnot perish but have everlasting life(John 3:16). All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God(Romans 3:23). Christ died for sinnerswho were hostile to Him(Romans 5:8}, defining Grace. No one comes to the Father except through Christ(John 14:6). Consequently Christ commanded that believers are to go to all nations, teaching everything He has commanded and Baptizing in the Name of the Triune God(Matthew 28:18-20).

As churchmouse rightly pointed out, the RC article implies that there are alternatives to salvation other than faith in the atonement of Christ for our sins. This is the thought process and hope of all non-Christian religions, which emphasize our "good" works as currency for salvation with God. Of course this viewpoint, which is the thinking of all world religions and philosophies, ignores and belittles the Incarnation, perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ as essential.

James Swan said...

Probably the biggest RC meltdown I ever witnessed on this topic was the debate James White had with Catholic apologist Bill Rutland last year.

495 - The Great Debate X(2005):
Is It Possible for a Non-Christian to Enter into Heaven?
Dr. James White vs Bill Rutland

This is the 10th debate in the Great Debate series covering the topic of whether or not a non-Christian can enter Heaven. In this debate, Dr. White takes the negative whereas Bill Rutland takes the positive side. This is certainly one of the more gentlemanly debates with both sides behaving in a cordial manner towards one another. The focus of the debate are two sections of the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church, namely, sections 841 and 1260. Both sections describe how non-Christians may enter Heaven. To be honest, Mr. Rutland has an indefensible issue because he had to prove that these sections in the Roman Catholic catechism are, in fact, apostolic teaching. You will note an almost universal salvation theme crop up in the debate, and the notion that there will be those who are saved outside of Christ. This debate exposes another error in Rome's soteriology-in addition to her errors regarding justification, sanctification, purgatory, and the concept of the free will of man, sections 841 and 1260 also present a sort of "back door" into Heaven. It is also interesting to note that Mr. Rutland repeatedly tried to bring up those who die in infancy and those who are mentally incapacitated as a defense of sections 841 and 1260. However, those subjects are described in section 1261 of the Roman Catholic catechism. Here is a breakdown of the debate:

Track 1 -- Introductions
Track 2 -- Opening Statement by Bill Rutland
Track 3 -- Opening Statement by James White
Track 4 -- 1st Rebuttal by Bill Rutland
Track 5 -- 1st Rebuttal by James White
Track 6 -- 2nd Rebuttal by Bill Rutland
Track 7 -- 2nd Rebuttal by James White
Track 8 -- 1st Cross Examination(Bill Rutland)
Track 9 -- 1st Cross Examination(James White)
Track 10 - 2nd Cross Examination(Bill Rutland)
Track 11 - 2nd Cross Examination(James White)
Track 12 - Closing Remarks by Bill Rutland
Track 13 - Closing Remarks by James White
Track 14 - Question and Answer Period

(2 Hours 55 Minutes)

available for download for a few bucks at:

Steve Dillard (aka Feddie) said...


FM483 said...

Thanks for the post Steve.

I checked out the link you referenced and it was a concise restaement of the Roman Catholic position on salvation of pagans.You know, this position is certainly "politically correct" since it includes everyone as recipients of salvation, regardless of what they believe or don't believe. Once again,this illustrates the reason the 16th century Reformers wished to REFORM the Church: certain teachings not based upon the Word of God can lead to heresy and should be eliminated from Church teachings. This is a perfect example of how this can happen. Most people are not able to distinguish between the two ways God speaks in Holy Scripture: Law and Gospel. Thus, when verses speak about how every man has the law written on his heart(Romans 2:15), the politically correct interpretation is that since all men are similar in this respect then they can be Justified in the eyes of God through keeping the Law, based upon their consciences. Unfortunately, reading this verse in context shows that NO MAN will ever be Justified by the keeping of the Law(Romans 3:20), since it must be kept PERFECTLY from conception(Matthew chpt 5, esp verse 48).As Martin Luther discovered through the Scriptures "But The Righteous Man Shall Live By Faith"(Romans 1:17). Then, what about the conscience? This substantiates why God is Just in condemning all men because all men, even pagans who have never heard the Gospel, know what is basic right or wrong and yet fail to do it. All have sinned(Romans 3:23); the hearts of men are naturally evil. If this was not the case, as God's Word clearly states, why was there ever a need for the Incarnation, perfect life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ?

Frank Marron

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed your blog. Thanks for being honest and open about everything. I love Jesus and love reading about people who know him too.

I am a musician and I would be honored if you would check out my music. All my music is free for download. Anyway, I don't mean to be a pest, just thought I'd share.

"All my muisc is free."

Churchmouse said...

Hi Sean,

I did a quick download of the song "Will I Give My Best" and I have to admit, prior to hearing the song I was thinking "Oh great! Another Christian singer using these mediums to promote some less-than-average music", BUT let me tell you that I really enjoyed it. It's a beautiful song and very inspiring. Very meditative. I think I'll download some of the others tomorrow, but yes, I was pleasantly surprised.

FM483 said...


I checked out your tunes. Thanks for inviting me to listen to your music! I am a gust blogger on this site, and so I may not speak for everyone who reads and posts here. But since you asked my opinion, let me be honest with you.

First, you are obviously a talented musician with a God given gift for music. I am not blessed in this department, although I sing to the best of my ability in church each week.

I was not born a Lutheran, but joined the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod in 1978. I did not enjoy traditional Lutheran hymns at that time and when I relocated back to Seattle for job related reasons in 1984, it wasn’t long before I left that church body. I spent several years in different church homes and was very satisfied with a musically inclined Charismatic church, where the music was contemporary Praise and wonderful. Years and a lot of heartache later I rejoined the LCMS for theological reasons. I came to realize that most contemporary church music,while appealing to modern ears,is theologically incorrect and not in tune with orthodox beliefs. I maintain that if a talented individual such as yourself could ever bridge the gap between modern tunes and Word-of-God lyrics, the product would be tremendous. Don’t get me wrong, there are certain modern songs that are just fine,such as Josh Groban’s hit a couple of years ago(You Lift Me Up). Let me explain. Your tunes and voice are just great, but the lyrics will not appeal to a Lutheran because they are the words of a Theology of Glory. Your words largely exemplify Decision Theology rather than the Theology of the Cross. Here are some examples:

1. “I Wanna Be A Christian”. Certain lyrics used indicate that if you don’t do what God says in His Word you are a fake and not a true Christian. This is Theology of Glory, not the Cross because God’s Word says no one can keep God’s Law the way he must, which is perfectly in thought, word, and deed. In fact, the Law of God, although perfect, is intended primarily to show us that we cannot keep it and to drive us to despair and ultimately Christ! Obedience to God’s commandments does not determine if a person is a Christian, but rather REPENTANCE over their sin and constant awareness of the need for the Savior, Jesus Christ. Christians are no different than other people, except they are aware of their sin and are continually REPENTANT over this.

2. “Will I Give My Best”. This song’s lyrics indicate that a person should give his best for Jesus because Jesus did that for him. Once again, this is Theology of Glory stuff. The Scriptures are clear that all we have to offer God is our sin. That is the only thing we really have to offer. As the Psalm says, God does not want sacrifices and offerings from us, but rather a broken and contrite heart. God is interested in an entirely New Creation, because our old self prior to conversion is only worthy of condemnation.

3. “Here I am”.There was one good line here “Nothing you can do can make Me love you less”. This is true. God IS love and has shown this by dying for sinners who were hostile to him, not “good” people who welcomed him. However, the line that contained the words that God wants to be our friend is theologically lame. God is our Father.He sent His Only Begotten Son to die for us. He doesn’t merely want to be an earthly “friend” but our Savior. He wants to clothe us with His blood, His Righteousness, which becomes ours through the vehicle of Faith. Which in turn comes by hearing the Gospel.

4. “Nothing Special”. I wasn’t sure of the lyrics here but kept hearing “I’m nothing special…it feels so right”. Theologically, since Christ died for us, we are extremely valuable. We are His adopted sons, inheritors of all the promises of God, which are Yes! And Amen! In Christ. Our bodies are now the temple of the Holy Spirit. Christians are indeed very special to God. We are His holy nation, chosen people,where He lives on earth, etc…

I hope you take these comments in the manner they were intended, which is in Christian honesty and love. You see, a lot of Christian denominations will love your songs, including the lyrics. But not Lutherans, for the reasons mentioned above.

Frank Marron

Churchmouse said...

Hi Frank,

You brought up some very good points. Have you read Steve Camp's The 107 Theses: A Call for Reformation for Contemporary Christian? I think you will find it very interesting. If you haven't done so already, you can read it here:


As one who hopes to glorify Christ in song (and I can sympathize because I too am a musician), if you haven't already, give it a read as well. Like Frank's post, Steve's article provide good, sound (no pun intended) guidelines for those who are called to this type of Christian ministry.